HC Deb 24 January 1995 vol 253 cc123-4
1. Mr. Streeter

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans she has to close the remaining grammar schools in Plymouth.

The Secretary of State for Education (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

It is for local education authorities to bring forward proposals for changes in the pattern of organisation of schools in their area.

Mr. Streeter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, because Plymouth is about to become a unitary authority under Labour control, our three remaining grammar schools—all of them centres of excellence—feel very much under threat? Is it not a pity that, despite choosing the best schools for their own children, Opposition Members still seek to deny choice, diversity and excellence to everybody else?

Mrs. Shephard

I am delighted to hear that the three grammar schools in Plymouth are popular and successful, and I hope very much that a change of local government organisation will not put those excellent and succesful schools under threat. The Labour party's stance on choice and selection is a great puzzle for those who follow these affairs. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the hon. Members for Peckham (Ms Harman) and for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) seem to support parental choice, at least for their own children. Perhaps it is a case of one rule for Opposition Front-Bench Members and another for the rest of the country.

Mr. Jamieson

Is the Secretary of State aware that six grammar schools were closed in Plymouth in the 1980s, a time when there was a Tory Devon county council and a Tory Government and—I might say—a time when the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) was a member of the Social Democratic party and advocating the closure of those schools? Does the Secretary of State agree that the greatest threat to grammar, grant-maintained, primary and comprehensive schools in Plymouth is the severe cuts in their budgets which have been brought about by her Government?

Mrs. Shephard

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman in the slightest. It is quite clear that the greatest threat to excellence and high standards in our schools comes from the Labour party, which has devoted so much time during the past decade to opposing every possible measure which would improve standards in our schools.

Mr. Steen

Is the Secretary of State aware of the outrageous and disgraceful proposals by Devon county council to cut teaching staff in Plymouth grammar schools and others? They also intend to reduce the money which goes to those schools—rather than cut their own bureaucracy—to save some of the £650 million it costs to run Devon county council. Will she ring fence the education budget so that the council cannot do what it is threatening to do?

Mrs. Shephard

To ring-fence any portion of a county council budget is beyond my powers, but I hope that pressure from my hon. Friend and colleagues will prevent that kind of damaging cut in Devon schools.